The Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) expected ridership to be up over the holidays, but not a full 15 per cent over last year.
Over a two week period starting Dec. 23 and ending Jan. 5, some 268,271 people took the bus in Whistler compared to 233,605 riders the year before. Thats an average of 19,162 riders each day, or almost 2,500 more riders each day.
The Alpine Meadows route saw ridership increase 11 per cent, while the combined Alpine-Emerald route saw numbers go up two per cent.
The Creekside Express Route saw an increase of 58 per cent, while the Whistler Creek numbers were up 19 per cent for an average growth of 19 per cent, or 5,033 riders a day.
The Hostel route was down 27 per cent while the Tapleys Connector and Staff Housing buses were fuller by 34 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. The Village Shuttle carried an average of 8,045 riders each day, or 12 per cent more than last year.
"Just by talking to the drivers, we knew that the numbers were up, but we didnt have any idea how much until we finally added up the numbers," said WAVE manager Scott Pass. "One person who has been driving a bus in Whistler since the beginning said he was more tired and stressed by the passenger loads than at any other time.
"That said, the drivers did very well, but like everybody theyre looking forward to a fewer slower weeks."
In addition to a growing number of riders, drivers had to contend with snow storms on some of the busiest days and nights of the year when the resort is at its busiest, including Christmas Eve, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Years Eve.
They also faced more traffic than usual. One bus driver took 47 minutes to get from the Gondola Transit Exchange to Highway 99. Buses heading south were also severely delayed by traffic in both directions.
"The traffic loads and the passenger loads were heavy, thats why buses were late. For all of those passengers that were held up, we apologize and thank them for their patience," said Pass.
Some good did come out of the volumes. On New Years Eve, the bus drivers raised $700 in gratuities, which they split with the Whistler Food Bank.
Although WAVE had its busiest New Years Eve since the Millennium party, Pass said there were very few problems and riders were better behaved than in recent years. The only damage was three broken windows, but only one was broken deliberately.
Although WAVE does not have the budget to put more buses on the road to spread the growing number of riders out, Pass said the ridership numbers will be discussed at the next Whistler Transit Committee meeting.
"With the funding frozen, we probably wont see any new buses for this year, or probably the next two years, but I would expect to see some growth after that," said Pass.